Chestertown, MD — Washington College freshmen went "Into the Streets and Into the Community" on August 29, learning how to give back to their new home even before classes began. More than 300 new students and group leaders ventured out across the region to perform service learning projects as part of the college's freshman orientation program.
The idea to use a large-scale service learning initiative as part of orientation was developed by two Washington College students, sophomore Gia Grier and senior Katie Preen. The students would get an introduction to the local area and their fellow classmates, while becoming familiar with the value of service learning. Grier and Preen attended a Campus Outreach Opportunity League conference last March and came back resolved to introduce all new students to community service, said Vicky Sawyer, Associate Director of Career Development.
"We wanted to jump-start the service aspect of campus life," said Preen, who estimated that 85 percent of incoming freshmen participated in the event. "We are really happy with how it turned out. We're hoping everyone had a good time and gained some incentive to continue service work."
"They were determined this would happen and submitted a proposal to include this activity in the orientation program," said Sawyer. "They really did a lot to make it happen."
Freshmen are often "bombarded with information" during orientation activities, according to Sawyer, so the "Into the Streets" program allowed the new students to "use energy, be physical, get off campus, and bond with each other." Sawyer said Grier and Preen worked throughout the summer on the "Into the Streets" project. They contacted potential service sites, wrote letters to new students, trained orientation leaders, arranged transportation, designed shirts, and created a positive atmosphere for success.
While participating in the project, new students learned about a broad spectrum of community organizations. Some freshmen and upper-class orientation leaders built wildlife boxes, cleaned beaches, and toured a farm museum at Turner's Creek in Kennedyville, while others restored trails and shorelines at Eastern Neck Island in Rock Hall, Echo Hill Outdoor School in Betterton, Camp Fairlee Manor in Fairlee, and Millington Wildlife Preserve in Millington. Other groups worked to preserve wetlands at Horsehead Wetlands Center in Grasonville, and some students served lunch at Magnolia Hall Nursing Center in Chestertown. Students also volunteered their efforts at Adkins Arboretum in Tuckahoe State Park, Pickering Creek Environmental Center in Easton, and Wye Island in Wye Mills.
"I was very proud, as well as happy, to see all the incoming students who turned out to do meaningful service activities in the Kent County community," said Grier. "I hope that this project will mark the beginning of a great year in service learning and will spark the interest of students who may not have previously been active in service."
Additionally, Sawyer said, instructors teaching Community, Nation and World seminars, required for freshmen, were asked to incorporate the community service project as a component for the course and to link the students' service experience to their studies.
"I think the project has made a major difference in the community," said Sawyer. "The new students offered valuable volunteer help, they learned about service projects and the significance of the sites, and hopefully they found a good cause to serve again."